Final Flight?

Honor Flights may be completed

The 22nd Oklahoma Honor Flight sent 81 veterans to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 21 to visit the memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifice.

The roster of veterans included 28 World War II veterans, 53 Korean War veterans and one Vietnam veteran. One veteran was unable to make the trip. Of those 82, 21 were older than 90.

A send-off event was held Tuesday, Oct. 20 at the Reed Convention Center in Midwest City to honor the veterans selected to make the flight.

“The entire nation thanks you for your service,” said Jim Patterson, a member of the Oklahoma Honor Flights board of directors. “You made it possible for not only your own children but the children of our citizens to live in a free country.”

Patterson said that many of the veterans at the event left home not knowing when they would return, what they would be doing or where they would be doing it.

One of the veterans told Patterson earlier in the evening that when he signed up he was asked his preference of where he wanted to go. He asked for Germany and they agreed.

“Until they were two-thirds on the their way to Korea, he didn’t know he was on his way to Korea,” Patterson said.

Linda Banz, secretary of the Honor Flight board of directors, said organizers of the event had one goal – “to honor each veteran, and to make the trip to Washington, D.C., a safe and memorable one.”

At the conclusion of the Oct. 21 trip, Oklahoma Honor Flight had escorted 2,008 veterans to see the memorials at the nation’s capital.

“We will stop accepting veteran applications on Nov. 1,” said Oklahoma state Rep. Gary Banz, who along with his wife Linda head up the Oklahoma organization. “Our goal was to take all World War II veterans to see the memorials at the nation’s capital and we no longer have a waiting list of WWII veterans.”

A small group of veterans are scheduled for a commercial flight on Nov. 2-3 where they will spend the night in Washington, D.C.

“That flight will be our first time to go commercial,” said Linda Banz. “We probably will continue with small groups on commercial flights, as we have financial resources.”

It was an early wake up call for the veterans on the Oct. 21 flight, who met at 4 a.m. at the Reed Center in Midwest City where they were loaded into buses and escorted to Will Rogers World Airport by members of the Patriot Guard and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. As they deplaned at Baltimore Washington International Airport in Maryland, well-wishers were on hand to thank the veterans for their service and welcome them to the area. Three charter buses, led by a police escort, took the veterans to the memorials.

The first stop was at the World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States and the more than 400,000 who died.

At the memorial to meet the veterans were members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation – U.S. Sens. James Inhofe and James Lankford, and U.S. Reps. Frank Lucas, Steve Russell and Markwayne Mullin.

As the group dispersed to tour the memorial, veterans were often stopped by people of every age who took the opportunity to shake their hands and thank them for their service.

A group of eighth grade girls from Dublin, Ohio, said it was special to thank the veterans. After speaking to one veteran, one student said, “I was sad that he went through this, but happy he survived.”

“The memorial is beautiful,” said Louis Bedoka from Anadarko, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. “I hope it helps young people realize that a lot of people lost their lives in this battle for their freedom. It’s an opportunity for them to pay their respect.”

Henry Spillman from Tulsa, an Army veteran, said the size of the memorial was “mind boggling.” Spillman spent 60 months in Korea.

“I spent two winters there,” he said. “That’s the coldest place I’ve ever been. It was 30 to 40 degrees below.”

William Richardson, a veteran from Tulsa, found out about the Honor Flight after reading about it in the newspaper. “When they said they were taking Vietnam vets, I applied,” he said. “You can tell these monuments are a labor of love.”

Edward Tebow from Edmond, who served stateside during the Korean War, said there needed to be more coverage about the Oklahoma Honor Flight. “They’re doing a terrific job,” he said.

Among the group of veterans was one centenarian, veteran Raymond Riley from Clinton. Riley, who turned 100 on Sept. 9, was accompanied on the trip by his daughter, Patricia Ward. Riley served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

After spending an hour at the WWII Memorial, the group boarded the buses that took them to the western end of the National Mall to tour the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After a 45 minute visit, it was back on the bus to catch the 4:00 p.m. Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

A police escort cleared the way for the ride back to Baltimore’s BWI airport for the return trip home.

It was a long day for the veterans but they rallied once again in Oklahoma as a large group gathered to greet them on their return to Oklahoma City. With patriotic music provided by the Sunny Lane United Methodist Church in Del City, Patriot Guard members bearing flags, family members and others cheered the veterans for their service to the country.